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There's a fine line between being distracted by the Net and actually being addicted to it. Either way, your productivity--and business--suffers. "With a start-up business, there's a threat of playing rather than working," says Kimberly S. Young, owner of the Center for On-Line Addiction in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Young says the warning signs of Internet addiction are similar to those of other addictions: "a preoccupation with the Internet while offline, a constant anticipation of the next online session, lying about the extent of use to others. For compulsive users, their whole life becomes the Internet."
Bellingham, Washington, entrepreneur Heather Martin says the depth of information available online cut into her productivity. "I would research articles [online] and start surfing completely unrelated sites," recalls the 30-year-old writer and marketing consultant. "Hours later, I realized I had no article, but my butt was sure sore! Suddenly, I was working nights and weekends [to make up for time wasted online]."
The first step toward breaking this destructive pattern is to keep track of what you're doing with your online time. Young suggests estimating time spent on essential versus nonessential use. Note your results: What are you accomplishing? Are you working productively or unproductively?
Next, put time-management skills into practice. "Structure how you work. If you spend two hours per day [online] for work, allow yourself 15 minutes just for fun," says Young. "Plan the time very specifically. This is a behavior-controlling approach. Be mindful of the addictive activity and regulate the behavior."
Martin used these strategies when she realized she needed to cut her online time and concentrate on running her company, Success Works. "Now I actually structure playtime into my day where I can read, watch TV or . . . yes . . . even mindlessly surf!" she says. "It's made a huge difference."
Shannon Kinnard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Idea Station, an editorial services company in Decatur, Georgia, that specializes in e-mail newsletters. She is the assistant editor of digitalsouth magazine (http://www.digitalsouth.com) and is working on her first book, which deals with marketing via e-mail.
Get The Fax Straight
"What's your fax number?" asks your biggest client.
"Sorry, don't have one," you--the homebased entrepreneur--reply.
It's a familiar scenario if you work from home and are already divvying up one phone line for voice use and Internet access. To get the most from a fax machine, it needs its own line so faxes can be received at any time. Of course, when you're traveling, you can't get the paper faxes that are sent to your home office.
Here's a solution: Get an account with an online service that provides you with a fax number so you can receive and access faxes via your e-mail or Web site, and a mechanism for sending faxes from your e-mail program.
New York's .comfax (http://www.comfax.com) lets you receive faxes for roughly $10 a month and send faxes for $4.95 per month. (Access fees are 10 cents per minute.) The company also offers broadcast fax services.
Ipost (http://www.ipost.net) and JFAX (http://www.jfax.com) offer unified messaging, which consolidates voice, e-mail, pager and fax messages, and sends them as e-mail or pager messages. Both charge about $13 per month for basic service.
Ira Pasternack, 29, owner of Internet marketing firm Clearly Internet, uses JFAX. "It lets me get faxes easily when traveling, it's much cheaper than having a separate fax line, and it helps me stay organized because all my faxes are saved on my computer," says the Providence, Rhode Island, entrepreneur.
The drawbacks are minor, he adds: "If something I'm faxing needs a signature, I need to fax from a regular fax machine. Large faxes can take a while to download; that can be slightly inconvenient when traveling--but no big deal otherwise, now that I have a cable modem."
Need help monitoring your own (or your employees') Internet use? Several software programs can help. Scout 2.2 (surfCONTROL, $99 for 20 users, http://www.surfcontrol.com) and FullControl (Bardon Data Systems, $49.95, http://www.bardon.com) both track sites visited and time spent online. In addition to recording online time and sites, WinGuardian (Webroot Software, $29.95, http://www.webroot.com/chap1.htm) tracks everything you do on your computer, including programs run and keystrokes typed.
Clearly Internet, (401) 274-2575, email@example.com
Heather Martin, c/o SuccessWorks, firstname.lastname@example.org